This fire season has been a horrifying reminder of how destructive wildfire can be. The devastation and loss across Colorado have been heart-wrenching. But the experience has also served to highlight how fortunate Southwest Colorado has been and what a terrific job firefighters and other emergency personnel have done here.
The High Park Fire west of Fort Collins, which started June 9, has burned more than 87,000 acres and is about 85 percent contained. More than 1,100 firefighters are still deployed against it, the cost of fighting it has topped $37 million.
As measured by homes destroyed, and reported in the Denver Post, the High Park Fire is now the second-most destructive fire in Colorado history. It has taken 259 homes and one life.
The problem is, the No. 1 worst fire in the states history started while the High Park Fire was near its peak. Although smaller, at 17,827 acres, the Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs has destroyed 347 homes since it began June 23. Two people have died.
As of Monday, it was 55 percent contained and fighting the Waldo Canyon Fire has, so far, cost more than $11 million.
By comparison, the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire sixth on the all-time worst list destroyed 56 homes and 27 outbuildings. It burned more than 72,000 acres and one veteran firefighter died when a tree fell on him.
In contrast, only one home and one outbuilding have been lost in any of Southwest Colorados fires, and no one has died. That is remarkable given the number and variety of wildfires the area has faced.
The Weber Fire in eastern Montezuma County has burned more than 10,000 acres, but no homes. The State Line Fire took one small home, and briefly shut down Highway 550 before firefighters got the better of it. The Lightner Creek Fire, only three miles from Durango, burned 90 acres and threatened some homes, but firefighters kept it away and none burned.
There was also the short-lived Chimney Rock Fire. The Escarpment Mesa Fire near Mesa Verde is still being mopped up. The Little Sand Fire in Archuleta County has now burned more than 24,000 acres. And, in one day last week, firefighters in La Plata County responded to 23 lightning-caused fires.
None of those compare in destructive intensity to the fires along the Front Range, but no direct comparison to damage could be fairly done. Southwest Colorado does not have the population or the density of the Front Range. With that many people and homes, any fire is potentially more destructive.
What is remarkable is that in all of this including the Flagstaff Fire near Boulder and the Pine Ridge Fire near Grand Junction firefighters and emergency personnel have kept the losses as low as they have been.
There is no way to minimize the destruction of 600 homes, but the truth is, in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, it could have been worse. And around here, things easily could have been far worse.
The fire danger is not over, by any means. But with a little moisture and a little luck, we may be over the worst. Either way, it is not too early to thank the firefighters, law enforcement officers, pilots, medical personnel and everyone involved in supporting them. They have done good work, and we are all in their debt.